Labs across the country are constantly asked to do more with less… fewer people, less time, and less budget. The value in a capital investment shows up where the rubber meets the road—in lab productivity and company profitability. Near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy is a well-known technique that delivers fast results for standard quality parameters, helping break down quality control bottlenecks.
Here, we will break down 3 ways that NIR provides a fast return on investment (ROI) for measuring key quality parameters in quality control labs.
1. Dump (or severely cut) your wet chemistry budget
If your lab is equipped to do in-house analysis with typical wet chemistry methods, you are probably spending lots of time and money ordering reference materials, solvents, and other consumables.
Sure, the cost of a single wet chem run may not seem like much, but it adds up over a year. If you factor in the less obvious hands-on time of the lab tech running the sample, it adds up even faster.
With NIR, you can cut out the consumables cost. Samples are measured as-is in reusable glass or plastic dishes. Skip the solvents, waste disposal, weigh boats, and accumulation of glassware that needs cleaning, too. Key sample measurements like fat, moisture, protein, and so many others, can be measured in less than 30 seconds, freeing up lab technicians for other important tasks.
So, let’s get to the point: how does this save you money?
Let’s say you want to measure N samples of Product A every work week. You are interested in three parameters: fat, protein, and moisture.
So, first, sum up the cost per sample for just one of the primary methods (in this example, whatever is being used for fat, protein, or moisture determination). The cost per sample should include the cost of reference standards, solvents, reagents, or consumables (as applicable).
First, estimate the annual cost for each primary method:
Annual CostMethodX = (Cost per sample) * (N samples/week) * (52 working weeks/year)
The NIR system provides all the primary measurement data simultaneously, so we need to compare the cost of the NIR investment to the cumulative cost of all three methods on an annual basis.
Annual CostNIR= CostMethod1 + CostMethod2 + CostMethod3
To determine your payback time (i.e. time to ROI):
Annual CostNIR / Annual CostPrimary = X Years
To enrich the ROI analysis even further, factor in the cost of labor required for primary methods on a per sample basis. Replacing longer methods with 30-second-or-less measurements using NIR not only saves operator time, but it also opens the door for higher sampling frequency at no additional cost and with negligible impact on the operator’s time.
The ROI timeline will clearly depend on the number of parameters your lab wishes to replace by NIR. It would be an expensive moisture analyzer, but when you can knock out multiple parameters at once, it’s a home run.
TIP: Keep in mind that some primary method samples will be required to calibrate the NIR, and primary analysis will be necessary when samples deviate from those in the calibration dataset. Read more about calibration development and update in this BUCHI Application Note.
2. Cut out the (QC) middleman (and/or avoid expensive batch recalls)
Third-party testing is convenient in that you do not have to have in-house expertise on primary methods. The number of samples you test may not seem like enough to justify the purchase of in-house equipment in the first place.
We agree, if you are only testing a few samples in a month, that hardly justifies purchasing any in-house equipment. But… before you write off NIR (or any analysis completely), consider these questions:
- Have you had any processing or quality issues due to inconsistent or mislabeled raw materials?
- Have you had any batch rework or recalls in the past 2 years that could have been avoided by more frequent spot-checking of in-process or finished products?
If you answered yes to either of the questions above, then investing in NIR may be the answer to sparing your production, PR, and legal teams some major headaches while instilling more consumer confidence in your brand.
The ProxiMate NIR comes with software that automatically creates calibrations customized for your ingredients or products so that you can quickly flag and respond to ingredient or production variations that negatively impact product quality.
For those QC folks relying more heavily on third-party testing, we can estimate the ROI for moving testing in-house using a simple algorithm. Here, the cost per sample should include the cost of analysis by the third party and any associated shipping costs.
Annual Third Party CostParameter1 = (Cost per Sample) * (N Samples per Week) * (52 weeks/year)
Again, sum up the third-party costs for each parameter that you send out that could be replaced by the NIR system (e.g., fat, protein, and moisture).
Annual Cost Third-Party= CostParameter1 + CostParameter2 + CostParameter3 + ….
The time required for payback is simply:
Annual CostProxiMate / Annual CostThird-Party = X Years
If you have had some brutal recalls that more frequent sampling with NIR could have avoided, we’re sorry. You can throw the cost of the recall(s) into the cost of third-party testing for good measure.
3. Consider the intangibles (like operator safety and environmental stewardship)
Safety and environmental stewardship may not be part of the ROI calculation (although, sure, they could impact the bottom line in worst-case scenarios), but they should be part of the risk-reward calculation.
The fact of the matter is handling solvents and reagents or working with heating elements associated with typical wet chemistry methods all impose some level of risk to operators, and waste disposal creates an environmental burden.
Of course, well-designed protocols can help mitigate operator risks for any method. However, with NIR, safety is simple and straight-forward. An operator would need to exercise common sense precautions if there were any risks associated with sample handling. In most cases, the sample is presented as-is (without any additional preparation steps) in a glass or plastic sample carrier like a petri dish. If the sample poses no risk to the operator, there are no other appreciable risks involved in sampling.
In terms of the environmental impact, NIR requires no solvents or reagents and produces no waste or vapors that need to be diverted or captured. It is an easy method to implement for a greener lab.
NIR offers a fast payback for labs that juggle multiple primary methods, rely heavily on third-party testing, require more in-process or finished product insights to avoid batch rework or recalls, or who are looking to transition to safer, greener technologies.
Do you have more questions on what NIR is, how it works, or how NIR can impact your bottom line? Reach out using our contact form to connect with BUCHI Application and Product Specialists for more detailed information or a consultation.